Wednesday, 25 August 2010

School dinners... yuck or yum!?

I have been trying to recall my first traditional Korean eating experience. When we arrived, one of the first things we did at the school was sit down with our co-workers and sample the school lunch. We are very lucky in that we get a freshly cooked lunch provided every day, prepared by three lovely Korean ajummas (married ladies). They grow various leafy looking things outside and harvest tomatoes and other root vegetables week by week (see below). I marvel at the rate some of the greenery grows and wonder how many schools in the UK grow their own produce for cooking. Food for thought one might say.

 

Luckily, when I rocked up all bambi eyed and ignorant of any problems that would stand in my meatless way, our predecessor had done all the vegetarian ground work for me. The cooks therefore had already battled through a year, figuring out what could and could not be eaten. Despite this, I have sampled various ‘special’ versions of stir fried noodles which are quite obviously cooked in the same pan as the meat alternative. I invariably find the odd little chunk of meat in amongst. Quite often they have said ‘there is meat in the guk (soup) but it’s only tiny?!’. I think they think if it is small it doesn’t count! Sometime I have been left only with rice and kimchi, (fermented cabbage-the Korean national dish) especially on days I am praying for a good feed.

Eating fish to me at home, only ever left a dull reminder that it was indeed still an animal. Here, all the fish is served un-filleted with loads of bones, all hacked into chunks with the heads left to glare and it can sometimes be a grim awakening. I once stuck my chopstick in a bowl of soup and pulled it out with the stick rammed down a fish head’s throat! I went white!



We sit to eat with our lovely coworkers around a table in the teachers room where we spend most of the day. Generally they speak in Korean and I spend my time guessing what they are talking about. This skill has developed over time! My lunch today was rice, kimchi, dried squid in red paste, dried vegetables in a sweet black paste, and stir fried sweet potato noodles with vegetables. Plus the daily yacult! The topic of discussion was something along the lines of "Lucy, your diet plan to eat over twenty minutes is not working, it has only been five minutes, slow down!” Tom had a meatier version- rice, kimchi, beef in ginger, stir fried pork and sweet potato noodles and the token yacult.



One of the delights of lunch at school is seeing all the tiny Korean kids trudge massive stainless steel terrines through the hallways, filled with rice or soup. I am amazed by how they managed to hike them up two flights of stairs to the kitchen!! The kid in the picture is 5 years old Korean age so maybe between 3-4 western age! Priceless.

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